*America as a Judeo-Christian Nation:  A Brief Note on Unmarked Religious Holidays

 

 

In the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), one of the two or three largest school districts in the United States, this Thursday, September 25th, was a school holiday.  Some weeks ago, in studying the 2014-15 school calendar so that, as a parent of two teenage children who attend two different schools in the LAUSD school district, I could be better prepared in planning my children’s schedules and my own, I noticed that September 25th was listed as a holiday and described as “an unassigned day”.  The calendar doesn’t explain what an “unassigned day” means; and I wondered what the occasion might be for a school holiday.  Apart from the long winter recess, which of course revolves around Christmas, and the spring recess, LAUSD’s holidays generally follow the pattern found in the rest of the country, and the holidays are meant to mark significant milestones in the country’s history or celebrate the lives of notable individuals, such as Martin Luther King Jr—though, of course, the King holiday is of comparatively recent vintage, and aroused enormous resentment among those who were hostile to him or thought that far more eminent (white) Americans had not been similarly honored.  In California, though apparently not in most of the nation, Cesar Chavez is dignified (as indeed he should be) with a holiday:  the LAUSD school calendar lists April 6th as an “unassigned day”, but a note explains that the holiday is meant to mark the observance of Cesar Chavez’s birthday.  The United States also observes, rather strangely, President’s Day:  if the intent here was to celebrate the founding fathers who rose to the office of the President, or “great” American presidents, such as those figures—Jefferson, Washington, Teddy Roosevelt, and Lincoln—who have been conferred immortality at Mt. Rushmore, one can imagine many Americans nodding their head in assent.  President’s Day in actuality marks the birthday of George Washington, but not every state celebrates it as Washington’s birthday; indeed, there is the tacit recognition, signified by the designation of “President’s Holiday”, that every American president is to be felicitated.  But why should that be so?  Are Lincoln, Grover Cleveland, Martin van Buren—assuming that anyone remembers him at all—Jimmy Carter, and George Bush to be equally honored?  Should war-mongers among the presidents be honored or rather pitied, critiqued, and ostracized?

ReligiousHolidayChristianSentimentInUS

 

This is all by way of saying that a good deal can be inferred about a country from its holidays.  That much should be obvious, once we set our minds to thinking about little things like these; though it is these little and often unremarked upon things that reveal far more about a nation than the more common representations that a country encourages and engenders about itself.  The world observes Labor Day, also known as International Workers’ Day, on May 1st—but, as is commonly known, in the United States Labor Day is observed on the first Monday of September.  One might explain this away as yet another instance of American exceptionalism, as yet one more illustration of some insatiable need on the part of the United States to signify its difference from others and proclaim itself as the last great hope of humankind.  Just about the only other country where Labor Day is similarly celebrated in September is Canada, but this is barely surprising:  notwithstanding its pretensions at being a ‘softer’ state than its neighbor to the south, more humane and sensitive to the considerations of common people, Canada is clearly incapable of having any independent policy and has slavishly accepted the American lead in most affairs of life.  (Yes, I am aware that Canada has nationalized health care.)  We need not be detained here by the history of how it transpired that the United States came to observe Labor Day in September:  suffice to say that a certain American president, Grover Cleveland, was alarmed at the proximity of Labor Day (May 1) to the commemoration of the Haymarket riot (May 4), and wanted to ensure that celebrations of Labor Day would not furnish a pretext to remember the communists and anarchists who, it was argued, precipitated the Haymarket riot.

 

christmas2013-1

For the present, however, I am rather more animated by how Thursday, September 25th, became a school holiday in Los Angeles—an “unassigned day”, though most other holidays are known by their proper names, such as Veteran’s Day, Thanksgiving Day, and so on.  (Schools in the Los Angeles school district are shut down for the entire week of Thanksgiving; the first three days of that week are also marked as “unassigned days”, though it is understood that they are appended to Thanksgiving Day and form part of a week-long recess.)  I am also struck by what appears to be a wholly unrelated fact, but on reflection helped me unravel this puzzle.  The University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), where I have been teaching for two decades, is commencing the fall quarter rather late.  The fall quarter always begins on a Thursday, since later in the quarter Thanksgiving falls on a Thursday; this ensures that there are ten complete weeks of instruction.  Ordinarily, classes commence in the last week of September; this year, fall quarter instruction begins on Thursday, October 2nd.  As in almost any other major American university, the Jewish element is disproportionately reflected in faculty ranks; indeed, it would be no exaggeration to say that in some departments, whether at UCLA, UC Berkeley, Harvard, Chicago, Columbia, and other like institutions, Jewish faculty predominate.  (Thankfully, the American university is one institution where Jews could go about doing their work relatively unhindered, though this is scarcely to say that the university has always been free of anti-Semitism or that Jews did not have to struggle against all odds to find a hospitable home.)  And it is surely no coincidence that the Jewish New Year, or Rosh Hashanah, this year falls on Thursday, September 25th.

 

In poring through the LAUSD calendar for 2014-15, it becomes palpably clear that only the adherents of Christianity are openly permitted their holidays.  Nothing in the school calendar confers similar recognition upon Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Taoists, and so on; much the same can be said for the UCLA academic calendar.  The Buddha’s birthday, Eid al-Adha, Eid al-Fitr, Diwali:  none of these auspicious days is given the recognition that is conferred upon many of the principal holy days in the Judeo-Christian tradition.  Never mind the fact that universities such as UCLA are increasingly greedy for foreign undergraduate students, many of them Hindus and Muslims, since they furnish the dollars that help universities maintain their bloated administrations.  The Hindu can have his holy cows just as long as the cash cows make their way to America and its “world-class” universities.  We are accustomed to much noise about the greatness of America as a multicultural nation, and one is almost nauseated by the constant and rather pious sermons about the need to value “diversity”.  If Hermann Goring wanted to reach for his gun whenever he heard the word ‘culture’, I am tempted to reach for Shiva’s trident whenever I hear the word ‘diversity’.  There was never any doubt that the United States has been and remains a resolutely Christian nation; nevertheless, it is critical to inquire why, and that too in a state which describes itself as the vanguard of progressive thinking and liberal attitudes, the academic calendar reinforces the notion that we all live under the Christian dispensation.  In religious matters, it seems, there is to be little or no diversity, and certainly no parity among the religions.

 

Having said this, the question about “the unassigned day”, which turns out to be the Jewish New Year, remains to be resolved.  Why isn’t the day simply declared a Jewish holiday?  Does this subterfuge arise from the fear that if Jews are openly permitted their holidays, the practitioners of at least some of the other ‘world religions’ will have to be allowed similar concessions?  On the other hand, the idea that Jewish people might remain unrecognized is altogether impermissible in American society.  The Jewish presence in Los Angeles is considerable; in certain sectors of American society, among them higher education and the film industry, the Jewish element is all but indispensable.  Then there is the consideration, to which I have already alluded, that the Judeo-Christian tradition is commonly viewed as the bedrock of American society:  if that is the case, it becomes perforce necessary, and critically vital to any conception of American politics, that Jewish customs and traditions be acknowledged and given their just due.  Yet, to complicate matters further, a latent hostility to Judaism and to Jews is inextricably part of the Christian inheritance, and there is a tacit compact which underscores the idea that the Jew in America should never be altogether visible.  Here, as has so often been the case before, the liminal status of the Jew—thus the “unassigned day”—is once again reaffirmed.

 

Religious Holidays at Pacific University

Religious Holidays at Pacific University

There have been, and continue to be, societies where religious pluralism is understood differently.  In my previous blog, in reviewing a book on Iraq under sanctions, I was struck by the authors’ claim, which is substantiated by other accounts, that in Iraq each religious community was permitted its paid religious holidays before the commencement of the Gulf War.  To admit this much does not diminish the other horrors of living under a dictatorship.  India is scarcely without its problems, and no one could say that religious minorities have not experienced discrimination; but it is nonetheless an unimpeachable fact that Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Christians, and Sikhs are all recognized by the state and that the religious holiday calendar has some space for each community.  The notion that the founding fathers of the United States were deeply committed to the separation of church and state, and that this principle has ever since guided American society, is part of American ‘common sense’ and rarely questioned.  It is this cunning of reason, this fundamental dishonesty, which mars America’s engagement with the question of religious pluralism.

 

 

 

*Death by Inches:  Sanctions and the Destruction of Iraq

 

 

[A review article on Abdul-Haq Al-Ani and Tarik Al-Ani, Genocide in IraqThe Case Against the UN Security Council and Member States (Atlanta:  Clarity Press, Inc., 2012); 258 pp.]

 

 

Since sanctions have assumed a critical place over the last few years in the foreign policy of the United States and its dutiful allies, with consequences that have often been chilling and ominous, it becomes imperative to understand how sanctions came to be deployed as a blunt instrument of terror and domination in our times.  With the formation of the United Nations in 1945, and the resolution taken by member states to attempt to resolve conflicts between themselves through means other than war, sanctions were bound to assume an important place in the international regime of governance.  It was in 1959 that Albert Luthuli, then President of the African National Congress, implored the international community to impose comprehensive sanctions against South Africa and so “precipitate the end of the hateful system of apartheid.” Three years later, the General Assembly voted overwhelmingly in favor of the economic boycott of South Africa, but as Britain, the United States, West Germany, and Japan, which between them accounted for by far the greater portion of South Africa’s exports and imports, chose to remain indifferent to resolutions expressing the general will of the rest of the world, sanctions against South Africa did not then come into force.

 

The General Assembly, repeatedly drawing the attention of the Security Council to the threat posed by South Africa to international peace and security, insisted that action under Chapter VII of the UN Charter was “essential in order to solve the problem of apartheid and that universally applied economic sanctions were the only means of achieving a peaceful solution.”  Under the terms of articles 41-42 of this chapter, only the Security Council has the power to impose mandatory sanctions, and attempts to render South Africa compliant were vetoed by the three Western nations that are permanent members of the Security Council.  However, the tide of international opinion could not altogether be resisted, and in 1977 an arms embargo against South Africa was mandated.  In 1993, the African National Congress, which was then almost on the verge of officially acquiring power, pleaded with the world community to remove the sanctions against South Africa and restore it to a respectable place in the community of nations.

 

These few nuggets on the history of sanctions suffice as a prelude to the understanding of how the most draconian regime of sanctions ever imposed upon a nation led to its devastation.  Abdul-Haq Al-Ani & Tarik Al-Ani’s Genocide in Iraq, published by the small and independent Atlanta-based Clarity Press, presents a severe but cogently argued and well-documented indictment of the United Nations Security Council, the principal vehicle through which the United States, the rogue-in-chief of all nation-states, effected the wholesale destruction of Iraq.  The authors of this book—Abdul-Haq is an Iraqi-born, British-trained barrister who holds a doctorate in electronics engineering as well as one in international law, while Tarik Al-Ani is an architect, translator, and independent researcher who makes his home in Finland—mince no words in either describing the outcome of the sanctions or the inability of people to understand the implications of what transpired during the course of a decade.  “Imposing sanctions on Iraq”, they state in their conclusion, “was one of the most heinous of crimes committed in the 20th century.  Yet it has received little attention in the Anglo-American world.  Despite the calamitous destruction resulting from the sanctions, no serious attempts by legal professionals, academics or philosophers have been undertaken to address the full scope of the immorality and illegality of such a criminal and unprecedented mass punishment” (p. 222).

Poster on the genocidal impact of sanctiosn at an anti-war demonstration.

Poster on the genocidal impact of sanctiosn at an anti-war demonstration.

 

No one doubted that after Iraq’s invasion and occupation of Kuwait, it was incumbent upon the so-called ‘world community’ to show its strong disapproval of Saddam Hussein’s irredentist designs by enforcing comprehensive sanctions against Iraq.  This was accomplished by Resolution 661 of the UN Security Council, which urged all member states to adhere to a strict embargo on all exports from, and imports to, Iraq.  The resolution exempted from the embargo “supplies intended strictly for medical purposes, and in humanitarian circumstances, foodstuffs.” Another committee of the Security Council, known as the Sanctions Committee, was set up to ensure that there would be compliance with the resolution, and to report its observations and recommendations to the Security Council (pp. 196-214).

 

Before sanctions were first enforced in the late summer of 1990, Iraq unquestionably had among the highest standards of living in the Arab world, a flourishing and prosperous middle class, and a formidable social welfare system that provided enviable material security to ordinary citizens. The economists Jean Dreze and Haris Gazdar noted that the “government of Iraq has a long record of active involvement in health care, education, food distribution, social security and related fields.  Notable achievements in these fields include free public health care for all, free education at all levels, food distribution at highly subsidized prices, and income support to ‘destitute’ households . . .” One of the more significant contributions of Genocide in Iraq is not merely to reaffirm the views of knowledgeable observers of Iraqi society, but also to offer a more sustained account of the achievements of the Ba’athist regime under Saddam Hussein. Chapters 3 & 4, on the economic development of Iraq, and “the progressive social policies” of the Ba’ath regime, ought to be nothing less than a revelation, particularly to those in the United States and Britain who allowed themselves to be led like sheep into believing that Iraq was nothing but a backward state full of hateful Muslims led by a blood-thirsty dictator, detailing as they do the strides made by Iraq in attempting to give a greater number of its people the benefits of a reasonably advanced social welfare state—an accomplishment all the more remarkable considering that Hussein was doubtless a brutal ruler who did not hesitate an iota to send to their death those politicians, activists, army men, public figures and opponents who might even remotely be construed as a threat to his own political survival and well-being.

 

According to the authors, the transformation sought by the regime was such as would confer the “benefits of development” upon “workers, peasants and other poorer classes” (p. 97); if this is at all true, that is certainly far more than what the United States attempts to do for its working class population.  “Prior to the 1990 Gulf War,” the authors state, “93% of Iraqis had access to health care and safe water.  Education was free, calorie availability was 120% of actual requirements, and GNP per capita was more than double its 1976 value” (p. 97).  The book is rich in empirical data:  we learn, for example, that between 1960 and 1990 the infant mortality rate diminished from 117 to 40 while the under-5 mortality declined from 170 to 50 (p. 108), just as the number of doctors grew by over 500% from 2145 in 1968 to 13621 in 1990 (p. 110).  Impressive as are these achievements, a testimony to the Ba’athist government’s progressive social policies, it is the authors’ delineation of a multicultural society that commands even greater attention and will certainly invite outright skepticism from the critics of Saddam Hussein who were pushing for war.  The authors argue that “up until the 2003 invasion, Iraq had been a very tolerant society with very responsible policies on religious freedom.  People grew up in mixed neighborhoods with no segregation between sects or religions” (p. 100).  They describe growing up in neighborhoods where Muslims, Christians, and Jews “lived side by side without any problem”; and each religious community was permitted its paid religious holidays, a privilege that is not conferred on Muslims in predominantly Christians nations such as the US, UK, and Germany.  Though it is simply assumed by most people that religious minorities have always faced persecution in Iraq, leading to their migration and diminished numbers, the authors point out that Iraq’s Christian population grew from around 149,000 in 1947, or about 3.7% percent of the population according to census figures, to about 1 million in 1987, or close to 5% of the population (p. 103).

Cartoon by Mike Flugennock, 18 August 2007.  Source:  http://sinkers.org/stage/?m=200708

Cartoon by Mike Flugennock, 18 August 2007. Source: http://sinkers.org/stage/?m=200708

 

A campaign of sustained bombing, and seven years of the most severe sanctions ever inflicted against any nation, were to relegate Iraq, in the words of an official UN fact-finding team, to the “pre-industrial” age.  [United Nations, Economic and Social Council, Commission on Human Rights.  Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities. “Forth-third session:  Summary Record of the 10th Meeting.” E/CN.4/Sub.2/1991/SR.10 (20 August 1991), 10.]  Insofar as socio-economic indicators are reliable criteria, Iraq joined the ranks of the under-developed nations and become economically regressive: as oil revenues shrunk dramatically, the little that remained of its decimated infrastructure after the bombing fell to pieces.   Iraq would soon have the highest rates in the world of maternal and infant mortality, and correspondingly the fewest number of hospital beds; an astronomical increase in diseases and mental illnesses was documented, and malnutrition, which had all but disappeared from Iraq before 1990, was estimated to have affected the majority of Iraqis by 1995. A report released in 1997 by UNICEF described 1 million children in Iraq under the age of 5 as being chronically malnourished, a condition that leads not only to stunted physical growth but considerably reduced capacity for development and education, and it ominously adds the following words:  “Chronic malnutrition is difficult to reverse after the child reaches 2-3 years of age.”  One year after sanctions first went into effect, the real monthly earnings for unskilled laborers in Iraq had declined by nearly 95%, and were lower than the earnings for unskilled agricultural laborers in India, where levels of poverty are endemic.

Infant and Under-5 Mortality Rates in Iraq,  1979-99

Infant and Under-5 Mortality Rates in Iraq,
1979-99

 

Severe as were the sanctions, they scarcely made a dent in the public imagination.  There can be no more notorious sign of this indifference than the remarks of the American Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, who when asked whether the sanctions could be justified in view of the mass starvation and death of Iraqi children, replied without a moment’s hesitation:  “We think the price is worth it.”  (Of course this notoriety surrounding Albright did not prevent her from receiving the usual accolades from the establishment.)  Some scholars take the view that the sanctions policy of the United States cannot be impugned, since it is conducted under the rubric of the Security Council; if this is the case, then it becomes incumbent to conduct a close examination of the human rights implications of the sanctions policy of the Security Council.  This is the other signal contribution of Abdul-Haq Al-Ani and Tarik Al-Ani’s book:  its subtitle, “The Case Against the UN Security Council and Member States”, hints at the boldness of the argument, since the authors are quite certain that the Security Council, which ought to act strenuously to prevent genocide, became the agent for the genocidal destruction of a people and their nation.  Their argument, however, would have derived yet greater force if they had considered that, rather ironically, another (and far more widely representative) body of the United Nations, namely the General Assembly, would draw attention to the “Security Council’s greatly increased use of this instrument”, and to “a number of [attendant] difficulties, relating especially to the objectives of sanctions, the monitoring of their application and impact, and their unintended effects.”  The General Assembly was to recall the “legal basis” of “sanctions”, which are described in Article 41 of the UN Charter as “measures not involving the use of armed force in order to maintain or restore international peace and security”, in order to “underline that the purpose of sanctions is to modify the behavior of a party that is threatening the international peace and security and not to punish or otherwise exact retributions.”

 

In making a representation before the UN Commission on Human Rights in 1991, the non-governmental International Progress Organization made the more forceful point that “the continuation of the sanctions policy implemented through the United Nations Security Council” constituted a “grave and systematic violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms” of the entire population of Iraq, who were being denied even the most basic right, the right to life.  The figure often mentioned to indicate the number of Iraqis killed since the imposition of sanctions is about one million between 1991-95 alone; the respected British medical journal, Lancet, gave a figure of 567,000 children who had died as a consequence of sanctions by 1995, while UNICEF estimated that 500,000 children had been killed on account of sanctions and the collateral effects of war.

 

Sanctions constitute a form of nearly invisible death, and ought to alert us to the fact that oppression in our times is increasingly masked.  We associate war with death and violence, but sanctions with human rights and non-violence:  as the former United States ambassador to the UN, Thomas Pickering, put it in a Security Council debate, “sanctions are measured, precise and limited.  They are a multilateral, non-violent and peaceful response to violent and brutal acts.” [United Nations, Security Council, “Provisional Verbatim Record of the Three Thousand and Sixty-Third Meeting.”  S/PV.3063 (31 March 1992), 67.] This is, to put it mildly, a perverse, even macabre, view of sanctions, and just as strikingly it displays a singular naiveté about the nature of non-violence, which is erroneously equated with the mere absence of force.  Non-violence is not only, or even, a doctrine of abstention from force:  it requires us to take active measures for peace and the well-being of all, and it is obscene to suppose that the denial of basic amenities to people, including the right to life, might be construed as a respect for human rights.

 

There has been little endeavor to recognize the economic oppression of an entire people as a crime against humanity, indeed as a form of terrorism.  The prospects for the international rule of law can be nothing but appalling, as the American scholar John Quigley has noted, if the United States continues to act on the presumption that multilateralism is a worthwhile enterprise only if it “can control the outcome.”  It becomes imperative, then, to ask what ought to be the place of sanctions in an international world order that purports to base itself on the principles of equity, ‘rule of law’, and democracy?  Are sanctions only viable when they have the force of moral opprobrium of a world-wide citizenry, as was evidently the case when sanctions were at long last imposed on South Africa, or should they continue to be available, as they are at present, to any modern nation-state that chooses to impose sanctions unilaterally?  There is almost nothing to warrant the belief that the wide and systematic use of sanctions will serve the dual ends of ensuring a just world order and help to make societies that are targeted by sanctions more open, just as there is compelling evidence to suggest that such wide and seriously abusive use of sanctions exacerbates political repression within targeted nations and paves the way for greater inequities between nations, eroding both the ‘rule of law’ and respect for the international system.  I have discussed the legal and political implications of sanctions in greater detail elsewhere, but readers can turn to Genocide in Iraq with immense profit to understand both how sanctions are deployed as a modern means of ‘pacification’ and to understand how crimes against humanity came to be perpetrated against an entire people without any consequences for the perpetrators of such crimes.

 

*The Scottish Referendum: A Desirable Dissolution of the Union of Great Britain

“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; / Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world”:  so William Butler Yeats famously wrote in his much-quoted poem, “The Second Coming”.  Some in Britain, contemplating the prospects of the dissolution of the Union of England, Scotland, and Wales, effected in 1707 and modified in the twentieth-century to accommodate the Unionists in Northern Ireland who resisted the idea of an independent Ireland, are warning of the impending anarchy if a majority of Scots should cast a ballot in favor of independence in Thursday’s referendum.  The beauty of the ballot, which will ask voters, “Should Scotland be an Independent Country”, and then signal their choice with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’, resides in its simplicity; and it is precisely this simplicity which is no doubt the envy of many around the world—among others, Palestinians, Kurds, Basques, Kashmiris, Nagas, Texans, even some Californians and, if we may constitute such people as a ‘nation’, the gun-toting fanatics of the National Rifle Association in the US—who would certainly like to weigh in on the question of their independence.  However, the simplicity of the Scottish referendum resides in other considerations, too:  watching developments in Libya, Iraq, and Syria, nor are these the only places where the question of secessionism and new political formations looms large, one admires the Scots for attempting to settle this question through something other than the gun.  Malcolm X might have thought the ballot little better than the bullet, and he doubtless had good reasons to do so in a country where in many places the African American could only cast his ballot at the risk of receiving a bullet in his chest, but in today’s politics too little constructive use is made of the ballot.  The Scottish referendum, if nothing else, gives one hope that American-style electoral democracy, a furious sound show signifying absolutely nothing except the lifelessness of an American politics that has been consumed in equal measure by money and sheer stupidity, is not the last word in electoral politics.

Many are the arguments that have been advanced by both the proponents and detractors of Scottish independence.  Not surprisingly, nearly all the arguments that have been encountered in mainstream media—print, digital, television, social networks—verge on the economic and what might be called the narrowly political.  England’s three major political parties, though here again there is little that any more really distinguishes them from each other, have spoken in one voice in suggesting that the dissolution of the Union will be a major blow to Scotland itself.   It has been argued that bereft of its Union with England, Scotland would experience job loss, the advantages of the British pound, and the flight of capital; as a small nation-state, it is likely to become quite invisible and would be without the benefit of the political and economic security umbrella under which it is presently sheltered.  The advocates of Scottish independence argue quite otherwise, insisting, before anything else, that the Scots must be in a position to decide their own future and political outcomes.  Scotland’s priorities, argue the proponents of independence, are poorly reflected in the constitution of the British government.  There is little appetite in Scotland, for instance, for foreign wars, and a good many people would be only too happy to be rid of the nuclear submarine base.  Scotland has 59 Members of Parliament in Westminster, but only one of those belongs to British Prime Minister David Cameron’s ruling Tory party.  On the economic front, the cheerleaders for Scottish independence have argued that Scots are much more hospitable towards the idea of a welfare state than the English, and working-class support for Scottish independence is particularly high.  The notion that revenues from the North Sea oil and natural gas fields would, in the event of independence, be used only for projects to advance the advance of the Scots is often trumpeted as the clinching argument, though it is germane to point out that the 8 billion dollars in North Sea energy revenues that the British government received in 2013 amount to about only about three percent of the Scottish economy.

If there is to be a compelling argument for Scottish independence, it must surely also emanate from the tortuous history of the Union and the brutality with which the Scots were treated by the English for the greater part of two centuries.  To suggest this is by no means to excuse the Scots from the part they played in forging the British empire; indeed, they occupied a disproportionately prominent role in Indian administration.  But it is perhaps a truism that only those who have been brutalized go on to brutalize others, and the first principle for the student of colonialism is to come to the awareness that the English did not practice in their colonies in Asia or Africa anything that they had not first tested out on their subjects in Scotland and Ireland. The story of how Europe underdeveloped its various others, not least in the British Isles and in what is called Eastern Europe—just what was “Eastern Europe” becomes amply clear from the writings of the so-called Enlightenment giants such as Voltaire, for whom “Eastern Europe” was nothing more than the point at where the allegedly savage and animal-like Slavs began to predominate in the population—need not be rehearsed at any great length at this juncture, but a few fragments of this history are essential to convey the enormity of English injustice.  Following the Jacobite uprising of 1745, an attempt by “Bonnie Prince Charlie” to win the British crown for the Stuarts, Scottish Highland clansmen, who aided in this failed attempt, had to bear the burden of callous retribution.  What the English effected in Scotland was nothing short of ethnic cleansing:  the clan system was destroy

"Last of the Clan", a painting by Thomas Faed,   c. 1865 (Kelingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Glasgow)

“Last of the Clan”, a painting by Thomas Faed, c. 1865 (Kelingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Glasgow)

ed and in various other ways the English struck at the heart of the Scottish way of life.   The tartan plaid and kilt were banned by the Act of Proscription of 1746-47—in the precise language of the act, which would not allow for any lesser penalties, the offence of wearing Highland clothing would attract “imprisonment, without bail, during the space of six months, and no longer; and being convicted of a second offence” would make the offender “liable to be transported”.  Highlanders were deprived of the right to own arms, and similarly Gaelic could no longer be taught in schools.  One might easily add to this list of persecutions, but nothing summarizes better what would become the pacification—an ugly word, which describes well how colonial powers acted with utter disregard for human life in their colonies—of the Scots than what is known to historians as the “Highland Clearances” which led to the mass-scale removal of the population of the Highlands, leaving it, wrote the popular historian John Prebble, “void of most, possibly 85-90%, of its people, trees and forests.”

Memorial Stone marking the site of the Battle of Culloden, 1746

Memorial Stone marking the site of the Battle of Culloden, 1746

In his charming but now little-read book, Two Cheers for Democracy, E. M. Forster, while championing English-style democracy over other forms of government, withheld the third cheer.  The English, he argued, had one insufferable vice:  hypocrisy.  How far this is peculiar to the English rather than a common condition afflicting a good deal of humankind is a question that need not be addressed at the moment.  Taking my cue from Forster, the argument for Scottish independence certainly deserves two cheers.  England, frankly, has not been humbled enough:  its immigration policies continue to be rotten, its visa regimes for citizens of its former colonies are not merely absurdly insulting but draconian, its disdain for the contributions of its own working class to the shaping of a humane society is appalling, and virulent racism is encountered in nearly every aspect of English life.  The nonviolent break-up of Great Britain is a most desirable thing; one hopes that if the referendum for Scottish independence succeeds, it will be eventually be a prelude to even more desirable outcomes, such as the break-up of the United States, which is far too big and powerful for its own good and certainly for the good of the rest of the world.  Secondly, no arguments are too strong for the devolution of power, the decentralization of authority, and autonomy for people who might choose their independence for ethnic, religious, linguistic, or other reasons.  There is, to put it in another language, an optimum size for a nation-state, and a great many nation-states are already far too big to both be governed efficiently and at the same time give all their people equal opportunities for their just advancement in various domains of life.  Nevertheless, there is something to be wary about in the demand for Scottish independence:  nationalism is almost always accompanied by a diminishing capacity for self-reflection.  When the Union dissolves, who will the Scot set himself or herself up against to know better his or her own self?  This is the problem that nationalism has not yet been able to resolve, and there is little to suggest that Scottish independence will yield new wisdom on this old and intractable problem.

The emptying out of the Highlands:  A pamphlet on Scottish emigration, Glasgow, 1773

The emptying out of the Highlands: A pamphlet on Scottish emigration, Glasgow, 1773